updated 12/4/2006 8:31:11 AM ET 2006-12-04T13:31:11

AOL's Spanish-language portal is now available for free as the company completes its plans to give away most of its services to boost traffic to its ad-supported Web sites.

Formally launching Monday, AOL Latino was previously restricted to customers who paid as much as $26 a month.

Over the past few months, AOL started giving away AOL.com e-mail accounts, software and Web portals targeting kids and teens.

"This launch represents another phase in the evolution of the U.S. AOL.com Web portal," said David Liu, AOL's senior vice president.

Following years of decline in AOL's core Internet access business, the company began two years ago to break down its walled gardens of exclusive content. In August, it accelerated the giveaway and stopped actively marketing access services to new subscribers.

AOL wants to prevent further defections to free rivals and hopes to at least draw once-paying customers to ad-supported features. The company sees the growing market of Latino Internet users in the United States as another opportunity to boost its audience.

"What better way to tap into them than with a new free portal?" said Ralph Rivera, general manager of AOL Latino.

AOL still charges for dial-up Internet access, as well as extra online storage and premium security services. The Time Warner Inc. online unit has no plans to give those away, although basic versions of storage and security software are free.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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